From zero to hero in JSON with C#

Introduction and Background

I have been reading many posts and articles about JSON and C# where every article tries to clarify the purpose of either one thing, or the other thing: JSON or C# libraries. I want to cover both of these technologies in one post so that if you have no idea of JavaScript Object Notation (JSON), and the C# libraries available for processing and parsing the JSON files you can understand these two concepts fully. I will try my best to explain each and every concept in these two frameworks and I will also try to publish the article on C# Corner and to share an offline copy of this post as an eBook, so excuse me if you find me sliding through different writing formats because I have to stick to both writing styles in order to qualify this post as an article and as a miniature guide.

When I started to do a bit of programming, I knew there were many data-interchange formats, serialization and deserialization techniques and how objects can be stored including their states in the disk to fetch the same data back for further processing and further working on the same objects that you just left while you were going outside. Some of these techniques are tough to be handled and understood while others are pretty much framework-oriented. Then comes JSON into the image, JSON provides you with a very familiar and simple interface for programming the serialization and deserialization of the objects on runtime so that their states can be stored for later use. And we are going to study JSON notation of data-interchange and how we can use this format in C# projects for our applications.

What is JSON?

I remember when I was starting to learn programming there was this something called, Extensible markup language, or as some of us know it as, XML. XML was used to convert the runtime data of the objects or the program states or the configuration settings into a storable string notation. These strings were human-readable. Programmers could even modify these values when they needed to, added more values or removed the values they didn’t want to see in the data.

Introduction of XML

For a really long time and even today, XML is being used as the format for data-interchange. Many protocols for communication are built on the top of XML, most notably SOAP protocol. XML didn’t even power a few of the protocols, it even kick-started many of the most widely known and used markup languages, of which HTML and XAML are the ones that most of you are already familiar with.

xml-file
Figure 1: XML file icon.

History has it, XML has been of a great use to many programmers for building applications that share the data across multiple machines. The world wide web started with the pages written in a much XML-oriented way, markup language called, HTML.

The purpose of XML entirely was to design the documents in plain-text that can be human-readable and can be used by the machines to define the state of applications, program or interfaces.

  1. State of applications: You can store the object states, which can be loaded later for further processing of the data. This would allow you to maintain the states of the applications too.
  2. Program: XML can be used to define the configuration of the programs when they start up. Microsoft has been using web.config and machine.config files to define how a program would start. Programmers and developers can easily modify the files as they needed them to. This would alter the design of the way program starts.
  3. Interfaces: HTML is being used to define how the user-interface would look like. Windows Presentation Foundation uses XAML as the major language for designing the interfaces. Android supports XML-based markup language for defining the UI controls.
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>

Empty XML documents are not meant to contain any blank object or document tree. They can be omitted.

This is not it. XML is much more than this, WCF, for example supports SOAP communication. Which means that you can download and upload the data in XML format. ASP.NET Web API supports data transfer in the form of XML documents.

Usage of XML

I want to show you how XML is used, then why shouldn’t I used something that comes from a real-world example. RSS for example, uses XML-based documents for delivery of feeds to the clients. I am using the same technology feature on my blog to deliver the blog posts to readers and other communities. The basic XML document for a single post would look like this,

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<rss version="2.0"
    xmlns:atom="http://www.w3.org/2005/Atom"
    xmlns:media="http://search.yahoo.com/mrss/">

<channel>
    <title>Learn the basics of the Web and App Development</title>
    <atom:link href="https://basicsofwebdevelopment.wordpress.com/feed/" rel="self" type="application/rss+xml" /> 
    <link>https://basicsofwebdevelopment.wordpress.com</link>
    <description>The basics about the Web Standards will be posted on my blog. Love it? Share it! Found an error, ask me to edit the post! :)</description>
    <lastBuildDate>Fri, 03 Jun 2016 09:48:29 +0000</lastBuildDate>
    <language>en</language>
    <generator>http://wordpress.com/</generator>
    <cloud domain='basicsofwebdevelopment.wordpress.com' port='80' path='/?rsscloud=notify' registerProcedure='' protocol='http-post' />
    <image>
         <url>https://s2.wp.com/i/buttonw-com.png</url>
         <title>Learn the basics of the Web and App Development</title>
         <link>https://basicsofwebdevelopment.wordpress.com</link>
    </image>
    <atom:link rel="search" type="application/opensearchdescription+xml" href="https://basicsofwebdevelopment.wordpress.com/osd.xml" title="Learn the basics of the Web and App Development" />
    <atom:link rel='hub' href='https://basicsofwebdevelopment.wordpress.com/?pushpress=hub'/>
    <item>
        <title>Hashing passwords in .NET Core with tips</title>
        <link>https://basicsofwebdevelopment.wordpress.com/2016/06/03/hashing-passwords-in-net-core-with-tips/</link>
        <comments>https://basicsofwebdevelopment.wordpress.com/2016/06/03/hashing-passwords-in-net-core-with-tips/#respond</comments>
        <pubDate>Fri, 03 Jun 2016 08:42:49 +0000</pubDate>
        <dc:creator><![CDATA[Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan]]></dc:creator>
        <category><![CDATA[Beginners]]></category>
        <category><![CDATA[C# (C-Sharp)]]></category>
        <guid isPermaLink="false">https://basicsofwebdevelopment.wordpress.com/?p=1313</guid>
        <description>
            <![CDATA[Previously I had written a few stuff for .NET framework and how to implement basic security concepts on your applications that are working in .NET environment. In this post I want to walk you to implement the same security concepts in your applications that are based on the .NET Core framework. As always there will be […]<img alt="" border="0" src="https://pixel.wp.com/b.gif?host=basicsofwebdevelopment.wordpress.com&blog=59372306&post=1313&subd=basicsofwebdevelopment&ref=&feed=1" width="1" height="1" />]]>
        </description>
    </item>
</channel>
</rss>

Of course I snipped out most of the part, but you get the point of XML here. This data can be read by humans themselves, and if the machine is set to parse this data it can provide us with runtime association of data with the objects. In a much similar manner, we can share the data from one machine to another by serializing and deserializing the objects.

What is the need of JSON, then?

JSON comes into the frame back in 1996 or around that time. The purpose of XML and JSON is similar: Data-interchange among multiple devices, networks and applications. However, the language syntax is very much similar to what C, C++, Java and C# programmers have been using for their regular day “object-oriented programming“; pardon me C programmers. The language syntax is very similar to what JavaScript uses for the notation of objects. JSON provides a much compact format for the documents for storing the data. JSON data, as we will see in this guide, is much shorter as compared to XML and in many ways can be (and should be…) used on the network-based applications where each byte can be a bottleneck to your application’s performance and efficiency. I wanted to take this time to disgust XML, but I think your mind will consider my words as personal and bias views. So, first I will talk about JSON itself how it is structured and then I will talk about using the time to show the difference between JSON and XML and which one to prefer.

JSON format and specifications were shared publicly as per ECMA-404. The document guides the developers to find their APIs in such a way that they work as per the teachings of the standard. API developers, programmers, serialization/deserialization software developers can get much help from the documentation in understanding how to define their programs to parse and stringify the JSON content.

Structure of JSON

JSON is an open-standards document format for human-readable and machine-understandable serialization and deserialization of data. Simply, it is used for data-interchange. The benefit of JSON is that it has a very compact size as compared to XML documents of the same purpose and data. JSON stores the data in the form of key/value pairs. Another benefit of JSON is (just like XML) it is language-independent. You can work with JSON data in almost any programming language that can handle string objects. Almost every programming framework that I can think of most of the programming frameworks support JSON-based data-interchange. For example, ASP.NET Web API supports JSON format data transfer to-and-from the server.

The basic structure of JSON document is very much simple. Every document in JSON must have either an object at its root, or an array. Object and array can be empty there is no need for it to contain anything in it, but there must be an object or an array.

A sample, and simple JSON document can be the following one:

{ }

What that means, is something that I am going to get into a bit later. At the moment just understand that this is a blank JSON document about any object in the application. A JSON document can contain other data in the form of key/value pairs, that are of the following types:

  1. Object
  2. Array
  3. String; name or character.
  4. Integer; numeric
  5. Boolean; true or false
  6. Null.

Note that JSON doesn’t support all of the JavaScript keywords, such as you cannot use “undefined” in a valid JSON schema. Nothing is going to stop you from using it in your files, but remember that valid JSON schema should not include such values. One more thing to consider is that JSON is not executable file, although it shares the same object notation but it doesn’t allow you to create variables. If you try to add a few variables to it, it would generate errors. Now I would like to share a few concepts for the valid data types in JSON and what they are and how you should use them in your own JSON data files.

JSON data types

JSON data types are the valid values that can be used in JSON files. In this section I want to clarify the values that they can hold, how you can use them in your own project data-interchange formats.

JSON Object

At the root of the JSON document, there needs to be either a JSON object or a JSON array. In JavaScript and in many other programming languages an object is denoted by curly braces; “{ }”. JSON uses the same notation for denoting the objects in the JSON file. In JSON files, objects only contain the properties that they have. JSON can use other properties, other data types (including objects) as the value for their properties. How that works, I will explain that later in this course guide, but for now just consider that each of the runtime object is mapped to one JSON object in the data file.

In the case of an object, there are properties and their values that are enclosed inside the opening and closing curly braces. These are in the form of a key/value pair. These key value sets are separated using a colon, “:” and multiple sets are separated using a comma, “,”. An example of the JSON object is as follows:

{
  "name": "Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan",
  "age": 20
}

Even the simplest of the C#, Java or C++ programmers would understand what type these properties are going to hold. It is clear that the “name” property is of “string” type and the “age” property is of integer type.

There are however a few things that you may need to consider at the moment:

  1. An object can contain any number of properties in it.
  2. An object can omit the properties; being an empty object.
  3. All the property names (keys) are string values. You cannot omit the quotation around the key name. It is required, otherwise JSON would claim that it was expecting a string but found undefined.
  4. Key/value sets are separated by a colon character, whereas multiple sets are separated using a comma. You cannot add trailing commas in the JSON format, some of the APIs may through error. For example, JSON.parse(‘[5, ]’); would return an error.

I will demonstrate the errors in a later section because at the moment I want to show you and teach you the basics of JSON. But, I will show you how these things work.

By now the type of the JSON object is clear to you. One thing to keep in mind is that JSON object is not only meant to be used as the root of the JSON document. It is also used as a value for the properties of the object, which allows the JSON document to contain the entire data in the form of relationship with objects; only difference being that the objects are anonymous.

JSON Arrays

Like JavaScript, JSON also supports storing the objects in a sequence, series or list; what-ever you would like to put it as. Arrays are not complex structures in JSON document. They are:

  1. Simple.
  2. Start with a square bracket, and end on the same.
  3. Can contain values in a sequence.
  4. Each value is separated by a comma (not a colon).
  5. Value can be of any type.

A sample JSON array would look something like this,

[ "Value 1", "Value 2" ]

You can store any type of value in the array, unlike other programming language such as C# or C++. The type of the values is not mandatory to be similar. That is something that pure C# or C++ programmers cannot fathom in the first look. But, guys, this is JavaScript. I used JSONLint service to verify this, later I will show you how it works in JavaScript.

Screenshot (1642)
Figure 2: JSONLint being used for verification of JSON validity.

In JavaScript, the type doesn’t need to be matched of the arrays. So, for example you can do the following thing and get away with it without anything complaining about type of the objects.

var arr = [ "Hello", 55, {} ];

So, JSON being a JavaScript-derived document format, follows the same convention. JSON leaves the idea of type casting to the programmer, because this is performed only in the context of strongly typed programming languages such as C++, C# etc. JavaScript, being weakly typed doesn’t care about the stuff at all. So, it can take any type in an array as long as it doesn’t violate other rules.

Upcoming data types are similar to what other programming languages have, such as strings, integers and boolean values. So, I will try to not-explain them as much as I have had explained these two.

JSON Strings

String typed values are the values which contain the character-type values. In many programming environments, strings are called, arrays of characters. In JavaScript, you can use either single quotes or double quotes to wrap the string values. But, in JSON specification you should always consider using double quotation. Using single quotation may work and should work in JavaScript environment but in the cases when you have to share the data over the network to a type-safe programming environment such as where C++ or C# may be used as the programming language. Then your single quotes may cause a runtime error when their parsers would try to read a string starting as a character.

In JSON, strings are similar and you have been watching strings in the previous code samples. A few common examples of string values in JSON are as following:

// Normal string
"Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan"

// Same as above, but do not use in JSON
'Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan'

// Escaping characters, outputs: "\"
"\"\\\"" 

// Unicode characters
"\u0123"

In the above example, you see that we can use many characters in our data. We can:

  1. Build normal strings such as C# or C++ strings.
    • JSON standard forbids you from using the single quotation because you may be sending the data over to other platforms.
  2. Escaping the characters is required in strings. Otherwise, the string would result in undefined behavior. You can use the similar string escaping provided in other languages such as:
    • \”
    • \\
    • \/
    • \b
    • \f
    • \n
    • \r
    • \t
    • \u-4-hex-numbers
  3. Unicode characters (as specified in the last element of above list) are also supported in JSON, you can specify the Unicode character code here.

One thing to consider is that your objects’ attributes (properties) are also keyed using a string value.

{
    "key": 1234
}

The value of a property can be anything, but the key must always be a string. The strings in JSON, JavaScript, C++, C# and Java are all alike and have the same value for each of the sentence. Unicode characters are supported and need not to be escaped. For original JSON website, I got this image,


Figure 3: JSON string structure.

Thus, the strings are similar in JSON and other frameworks (or languages).

JSON Integers

Just like strings, integers are also the literal values in the JSON document that are of numeric type. They are not wrapped in quotations, if they are then they are not numeric types, instead they are of string type.

A few examples of integer values are:

// Simple one
1234

// Fractional
12.34

// Exponential
12e34

You can combine fractional and exponential too. You can also append the sign of the number (negative – or positive +) with the number itself. In JSON these types can also be used as the values. If you take a look at the example above in a few sections above, you can see that I had used the age as an integer value for my property. A few things that you should consider while working with JSON data is:

  1. In exponential form, “e” and “E” are similar.
  2. It must never end with “e”.
  3. Number cannot be a NaN.
  4. Number encoding and variable size should be considered. JavaScript and other language may differ in encoding the variable size for the numberics and may cause an overflow.

JSON Boolean

Boolean values indicate the results of a conditional operation on an expression. Such as, “let him in, if he is adult”. JSON supports storing values in their literal boolean notation. They are similar to what other programming languages have in common. They must also not be wrapped in quotation as they are literals. If a boolean value is wrapped in quotation then it is not a boolean value but instead it is a string value.

// Represents a true result
true

// Represents a false result
false

These must be written as they are because JavaScript is case-sensitive and so is JSON. You can use these values to denote the cases where other types cannot make much sense compared to what this can make, sense. For example, you can specify the gender of the object.

{
    "name": "Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan",
    "age": 20, 
    "gender": true
}

I didn’t use “male”, instead I used “true”. On the other side I can then translate this condition to another type such as,

if(obj.gender) {
    // Male
} else {
    // Female
}

This way, other than strings and numeric values we can store boolean values. These would help us structure the document in a much simpler, cleaner and programmer-readable format.

JSON null

C based programmers understand what a null is. I have been programming in programming languages such as, C, C++, C#, Java, JavaScript and I have used this keywords where the objects do not exist. There are other programming languages such as Haskell, where this doesn’t make much sense. But, since we are just talking about JavaScript and languages like it, we know what null is. Null just represents when an object doesn’t exist in the memory. In JavaScript, this means the “intentional absence” of the object. So in JavaScript environment a null object does exist but has no value. In other languages it is the other way around; it doesn’t even exist.

It just has a single notation,

null

It is a keyword and must be typed as it is. Otherwise, JavaScript-like error would pop up, “undefined“. This can help you in sending the data which doesn’t exist currently. For example, in C# we can use this to pass the values from database who are nullable. There are nullable types in C#, which we can map to this one.  For example, the following JSON document would be mapped to the following C# object:

{
    "name": "Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan",
    "age": null
}

C# object structure (class)

class Person {
    public string Name { get; set; }
    public int? Age { get; set; }      // Nullable integer.
}

And in the database if the field is set to be nullable, we can set it to that database record. This way, JSON can be used to notably denote the runtime objects in a plain-string-text format for data-interchange.

Examples of use

I don’t want to stretch this one any longer. JSON has been widely accepted by many companies even Microsoft. Microsoft was using the web.config file in XML format for configuration purposes of the application. However, since a while they have upgraded their systems to parse and use the settings provided in a much JSON way. JSON is very simpler and easier to handle.

Microsoft started to use JSON format to handle the settings for their Visual Studio Code product. JSON allows extension of the settings, which helps users to add their own modifications and settings to the product.

I have been publishing many articles about JSON data sources and I think, if I started to use JSON then it was a sign of success of JSON over XML.:-)

  1. Creating a “customizable” personal blog using ASP.NET
  2. Understanding ASP.NET MVC using real world example, for beginners and intermediate

There are many other uses of JSON and my personal recommendation is with JSON if you can use JSON over XML. However, if you are interested in XML or are supposed to use XML such as when using SOAP protocol. Otherwise, consider using JSON.

Errors in JSON

No, these are not errors in the JSON itself, but a few errors that you may make while writing the JSON documents yourself. This is why, always consider using a library.

Trailing commas

As already mentioned above, the trailing commas in the JSON objects or arrays cause a problem. The parser may think that there is another property to come but unexpectedly hits a terminating square or curly bracket. For example the following are invalid JSON documents:

{ "k": "v",  }    // Ending at a comma

[ 123, "", ]      // Ending at a comma

These can be overcame if you:

  1. First of all, write your own parsers.
  2. Make them intelligent enough to know that if there is no property, they can ignore adding a property, simply.
  3. If there is no more value in the array after the comma, it means the array ended at the previous token.

However, present parsers are not guaranteed to be intelligent enough so my recommendation is to ignore this.

Ending with an “e” or “E”

If you end your numbers in exponential form with a e, you are likely to get an error of undefined. You know what that means, don’t you? It is always better to end it is a proper format following the specification.

Undefined

Each property name must be a string token. In JavaScript you can do the both of the following:

var obj = { "name": "Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan" };

// OR
var obj = { name: "Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan" };

But in JSON you are required to follow the string-based-key-names method of creating and defining the object properties. In JSON, if you do the following you will get error,

{ 
   name: "Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan"
}

Because, name is undefined. Parser may consider it to be a variable somewhere but JSON documents cannot be executed so there is no purpose of JavaScript variables to be there. Some libraries may render the results for your documents even if you leave your property names un-stringed. But, don’t consider everything to be server always follow the specifications.

C# side of article

To this point I hope that JSON is as simple as 1… 2… 3. for you! If not, please let me know so that I can make it even more clear. But, in this section I want to talk about using JSON in your C# projects. In this section I am going to talk about the libraries that are available in C#, or more specifically I am going to talk about JSON.NET library. I will use this library to explain how JSON can be used to save the state of the objects. How you can create a JSON file, how you can parse it to create objects on runtime and how serialization and deserialization works.

This section will be a real world section covering the methods and practices that you can use to use JSON in your own applications. I will cover most of the C# programming part in this section so that you can understand and learn how to program JSON in your .NET environment.

JSON.NET library

I am specifically just going to walk you through JSON.NET library. JSON.NET is a widely used JSON parser for .NET framework. I have been using this library for a very long time and I personally this is one of the best APIs out there for JSON parsing.

Screenshot (1669)
Figure 4: Json.NET comparison with other popular JSON serializers.

I will use the objects provided in this library just to demonstrate how you can parse JSON files to runtime objects, and how you can create JSON strings (serialize the objects) using the objects provided to the serializer. By the end of this post you will be able to create your own JSON-oriented-and-backed applications in .NET framework (or any framework that supports C# programming).

Creating the object for this guide

In C#, we create classes to work around with real-world objects. We can then use this library to convert the runtime structure of that object to a storable JSON document that can be used to:

  1. Send over the network.
  2. Save on the disk.
  3. Save for loading the object in that state later.

Many other uses. The counterpart of this process is the deserialization of the objects in runtime structures from their JSON notation. First of all, I will create a sample class that we are going to use to convert to JSON format and from the JSON format.

class Person
{
    public int ID { get; set; }
    public string Name { get; set; }
    public bool Gender { get; set; }
    public DateTime DateOfBirth { get; set; }
}

This object has the following diagram.

Screenshot (1670)
Figure 5: Person class diagram.

Frankly speaking, this object can be created in C++, it can be created in Java and it can be created in JavaScript too. If we use JSON for serializing this object, or the number of objects that can be transmitted over the network to the peers on the networks. Since we have stringified the data in JSON notation, we now can parse the string data in other languages too. Every other programming language has a JSON parser library.

We can redefine the structures in other programming languages and then use a JSON parser library to convert this string over the network in those machines too. I am going to cover C# part of programming only.

A few things that you might want to know here before we move forward. I have used the datatype of “DateTime” because I wanted to show how derived types are converted to when they are being serialized to JSON notation. So, let’s begin the C# programming to understand the relative stuff in their C# counterparts.

Serializing the objects

In programming, serialization is the process of converting the runtime objects to a plain-text string format. In other words, it converts the object structure from memory to a format that can be stored on the disk. Serialization just translates the state of the objects, which is that it just translates the properties of the object to the format that can be used to store them for later use. You can think of it as synchronization process, where you store the current state of the objects on the disk so that you can load the data later and start your work from the state where you left it instead of starting from scratch again.

Since we are talking about JSON here, we are interested in the conversion of objects in their JSON notation for storage (serialization) and then in the upcoming section to convert the JSON document into runtime objects and data structures (deserialization). Simply, we are going to see how to convert the JSON into objects and vice versa.

To serialize the object, you need an object that holds the data in itself. The object would have a state in the application. We then call the library functions to serialize the objects in their JSON notation. Like this,

// Create the person
Person myself = new Person { 
                    ID = 123, 
                    Name = "Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan", 
                    Gender = true, 
                    DateOfBirth = new DateTime(1995, 08, 29) 
                };

// Serialize it.
 string serializedJson = JsonConvert.SerializeObject(myself);

// Print on the screen.
 Console.WriteLine(serializedJson);

The function is called to serialize the object which (as clearly seen) return a string object. This object holds the JSON notation for the object. The output returned was like this, (yes, I formatted the JSON document for readability)

{
    "ID": 123,
    "Name": "Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan",
    "Gender": true,
    "DateOfBirth": "1995-08-29T00:00:00"
}

We create store the data in a file, send it on the network or do what we have to. I am not going to cover that part because I think (and believe) that this is totally relative to your application design and how it is expected to work. Now, we need to understand how it happened.

The ID, Name and Gender are the types that you have already seen. However the last field was actually of type DateTime which got translated to string type in JSON. Why? The answer is simple, JSON doesn’t provide a native DateTime object to store the date and time values. Instead, they use string notation to store the date value. The string value is very much self-explanatory as to what the year is, what month and what value date has. The time part is also clearly visible.

One thing to note here is that C# and JSON can agree on using the “null” value for objects too. Thus if the name is set to a null value, JSON can support the same value of null in its own document format. In the next section, we will study how JSON is mapped to the objects.

Deserializing the JSON

In data-interchange, this is the counterpart of the serialization process. In this process, we take the JSON document and parse it the runtime object (collection). There are many libraries available that can be used for parsing purposes however I am going to talk about the same one that I had been using to demonstrate the usage in C# programming environment. The method is very simple in this case too, However, I am going to use a JSON formatted string variable to use to parse it to the object.

Note: You can use values from files, networks, web APIs and other resources from where you can get the JSON formatted document. Just for the sake of simplicity I am going to use a string variable to hold the values.

The sample JSON data can be like the following,

string data = "{\"ID\": 123,\"Name\": 
               \"Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan\",\"Gender\": 
               true,\"DateOfBirth\": \"1995-08-29T00:00:00\"}";

I used the following code to deserialize the JSON document.

// Serialize it.
Person obj = JsonConvert.DeserializeObject<Person>(data);

// Print on the screen.
Console.WriteLine(obj.ID);

Now notice one thing here. This “DeserializeObject” function has two versions.

  1. A plain non-generic version.
  2. A generic version.

If you use the non-generic version, then in C# you are going to use the dynamic object creation in C# and then we will be using the properties. For example, like the code below:

dynamic obj = JsonConvert.DeserializeObject(data);

Console.WriteLine(obj.ID);

Using that dynamic keyword would allow you to bypass the compile time check and allow you to get the “ID” property at a later time. This can be handy when you don’t want to create a class and deserialize against.

However, the version that I am using at the moment is different. It uses a type-parameter that is passed as a generic parameter; angled brackets, and Json.NET deserializes the JSON document and fills up our objects. We can also have array of objects, this way instead of “convincing” the program to iterate over the collection. We can first of all have the JSON parsed as an array of objects and so on. This would help us shorten the code and to check the stuff at all.

var listOfObjects = JsonConvert.DeserializeObject<List<Person>>(data);

Notice that we are passing a “List<>” object. Library would convert the stuff into the list of the objects and we can then use the collection for iterative purposes.

Some errors

There are a few errors that I would like to raise here, which might help you in understanding how JSON works. I will update this section later as I collect more data on this topic.

Type mismatch

If you try to deserialize the JSON of one type (such as, an object) into a type where it cannot be converted to (such as, an array). Library will raise an error. So do the following:

  1. Either make sure which type to convert to. Or
  2. Do not convert to a generically passed type, instead use dynamic keyword to deserialize the object and then check its type later on runtime. That still doesn’t guarantee it to work.

My recommendations

Finally, I want to give you a few of my own personal experience tips. In my experience I started to work with data on a database system; SQL Server CE I remember. But later I had to create applications which required a bit complex structures and were not going to last another weak. So in such conditions, using a database table was not a good idea. Instead, I had to use a sample and temporary data source. During those days, XML was a popular framework as per my peers. JSON was something that most didn’t understand. So, in my own humble opinion, you should go with JSON, where:

  1. Data needs to be shared cross-platform, cross-browser and cross-server. Databases may be helpful, but even they need serialization and stuff like that.
  2. You just need to test the stuff. You can target your Model to the JSON parsers and then in release mode change them to the actual data sources.

That is not it, the size of JSON is “amazingly” compact as compared to XML. For example, have a look here:

// JSON
{
 "name": "Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan",
 "age": 20,
 "emptyObj": { }
}

// XML
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" ?>
<name>Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan</name>
<age>20</age>
<emptyObj />

Even in the cases where JSON has nothing in it, XML is bound to have that declaration line. Then other problems come around, such as sending an array, or sending out a native type object. In JSON you can do this,

true

In XML, you don’t have any “true” type. So, you are bound to send something extra. Which can cause to be a bottleneck in the networking transmission. I have been writing many articles, blogs and guides and most of them are based on JSON if not on SQL Server.

Hashing passwords in .NET Core with tips

Previously I had written a few stuff for .NET framework and how to implement basic security concepts on your applications that are working in .NET environment. In this post I want to walk you to implement the same security concepts in your applications that are based on the .NET Core framework. As always there will be 2 topics that I will be covering in this post of mine, I did so before but since that was for .NET itself, I don’t think that works with .NET Core. Besides, .NET Core is different in this matter as compared to .NET framework, one of the major reasons being that there is no “SHA256Managed” (or any other _Managed types in the framework). So the framework is different in this manner. This post would cover the basic concepts and would help you to understand and get started using the methodologies for security.

Security_original
Figure 1: Data security in your applications is the first step for gaining confidence in clients.

First of all, I would be covering the parts of hashing and I will give you a few of my tips and considerations for hashing the passwords using .NET Core in your applications. Before I start writing the article post, I remember when I was working in Mono Project and the platform was very easy to write for. I was using Xamarin Studio as IDE and the Mono was the runtime being used at that time, in my previous guide although the focus was on the Mono programming on Ubuntu whereas in this post I will covering the concepts of same but with .NET Core. .NET Core is really beautiful, although it is not complete, yet it is very powerful. I am using the following tools at the moment so in case that you want to set up your own programming environment to match mine, you can use them.

  1. IDE: Visual Studio Code.
  2. C# extension: For C# support and debugging
  3. Terminal: Ubuntu provides a native terminal that I am using to execute the command to run the project after I have done working with my source code.

Screenshot (967)
Figure 2: Visual Studio being used for C# programming using .NET Core.

You can download and install these packages on your own system. If you are using Windows, I am unaware as to what Visual Studio Code has to offer, because since the start of Visual Studio Code I have just used it on Ubuntu and on Windows systems my preference is always Visual Studio itself. Also, I am going to use the same project that I had created and I am going to start from there, A Quick Startup Using .NET Core On Linux.

So, let’s get started…:-)

Hashing passwords

Even before starting to write it, I am considering the thunderstorm of comments that would hit me if I make a small and simple mistake in the points here, such as:

  1. Bad practices of hashing.
  2. Not using the salts.
  3. Bad functions to be used.
  4. Etc.

However, I will break the process down since it is just a small program that does the job and there is no very less exaggeration here. Instead of talking about that, I will walk you through many concepts of hashing and how hackers may try to get the passwords where hashing helps you out.

Until now I have written like 3 to 4 articles about hashing, and I can’t find any difference in any of these codes that I have been writing. The common difference is that there are no extra managed code stuff around. .NET Core removed everything redundant in the code samples. So we are left with the simple ones now that we would be using.

What I did was that I just created a simple minimal block of the SHA256 algorithm that would hash the string text that I am going to pass. I used the following code,

// SHA256 is disposable by inheritance.
using (var sha256 = SHA256.Create()) {
    // Send a sample text to hash.
    var hashedBytes = sha256.ComputeHash(Encoding.UTF8.GetBytes("hello world"));
 
    // Get the hashed string.
    var hash = BitConverter.ToString(hashedBytes).Replace("-", "").ToLower();
 
    // Print the string. 
    Console.WriteLine(hash);
}

This code is a bit different from the one being used in .NET framework. In the case of .NET framework the code starts as:

using (var sha256 = new SHA256Managed()) {
     // Crypto code here...
}

That is the only difference here, rest of the stuff is almost alike. The conversion of bytes into string text is upto you. You can either convert the bytes to hexadecimal strings or you can use the BitConverter helper to convert that to the text that is being represented.

The result of this code is,

Screenshot (968)
Figure 3: Result of the above shown code in C# being executed in Ubuntu terminal on .NET Core runtime. 

There is one another constraint here, “Encoding.UTF8“, if you use another encoding for characters then the chances are your hashed string would be different. You can try out other flavors of the character encodings such as:

  1. ASCII
  2. UTF-8
  3. Unicode (.NET framework takes Unicode encoding as UTF-16 LE)
  4. Rest of the encodings of Unicode etc.

The reason is that they provide a different byte ordering and this hashing function works on the bytes of the data that are passed.

Tips and considerations

There are generally two namespaces rising, one of them is the very old familiar .NET’s namespace, System.Security.Cryptography, whereas another one is Microsoft.AspNet.Cryptography which is a part of ASP.NET Core and are to be released. Anyways, here are a few of the tips that you should consider before handing the passwords.

Passwords are fragile — handle with care

I can’t think of any online service, offline privacy application, API hosts where passwords are not handled with care. If there is, I would still act as I never knew of it. Passwords must always be hashed before saving in the database. Hashing is done because hashing algorithms are created with one thing in mind, that they are hard (if not impossible) to convert back to plain-text passwords. This makes it harder for the hackers to get the passwords back in the real form. To explain this fact, I converted the code into a functional one and printed the hash with a little change in the text.

private static string getHash(string text) {
    // SHA512 is disposable by inheritance.
    using (var sha256 = SHA256.Create()) {
        // Send a sample text to hash.
        var hashedBytes = sha256.ComputeHash(Encoding.UTF8.GetBytes(text));
   
        // Get the hashed string.
        return BitConverter.ToString(hashedBytes).Replace("-", "").ToLower();
    }
}

I will execute this function and get the hashed string back for the text that have very less difference in them.

string[] passwords = { "PASSWORD", "P@SSW0RD", "password", "p@ssw0rd" };
 
foreach (var password in passwords) {
    Console.WriteLine($"'{password}': '{getHash(password)}'");
}

Although they seem to look alike but have a look at the avalanche effect that happens due to such small changes. Even have a look at the differences in the capital case and small case.

Screenshot (972)
Figure 4: Password hashes being shown in the terminal. 

This helps in many ways, because it is harder to guess what the possible plain-text alternate would be for this hashed string. Remember the constraints again,

  1. The character encoding is UTF-8; others would provide a different character encoding bytes ordering.
  2. Hash algorithm being used in SHA256, others would produce even different results.

If you don’t hash out the passwords, hackers may try to use most common attacks on your database system to gain privileges of access. A few common type of attacks are:

  1. Brute force attack
  2. Dictionary attack
  3. Rainbow table attack

Rainbow table attack work in a different manner, it tries to convert the hash back to the plain-text based on the database where a password/hash combination is present. Brute force and dictionary attacks use a guessing and commonly used passwords respectively, to gain access. You need to prevent these attacks from happening.

Besides there are cases where your password hashing is useless. Such as when you want to use MD5 hashing algorithms. MD5 algorithms can be easily cracked and the tables for entire password look up are already available and hackers can use those tables to crack your passwords that are hashed using MD5. Even SHA256, SHA512 don’t work as you are going to see in the following section. In such cases you have to add an extra layer of security.

Bonus: how to break it?

Before I continue further, I wanted to share the point of these passwords and their hashes being weaker. There are many hacking tools available, such as reverse look ups. Let us take our first password and see if that can be cracked. I used CrackStation service to crack the password and convert it back to its original text form,

Screenshot (975)
Figure 5: SHA256 based password converted back to its original form. 

See how inefficient even these tricks happen to be. In a later section I will show you how to salt the passwords and what the effect is. Although we had hashed it using SHA256, the reverse lookup table already has that password of ours. Hackers would just try to use that hash and get the real string value in the plain-text to be used for authentication purposes.

Slower algorithms

On networks where hackers are generally going to attack your websites with a script. You should have a hashing algorithm that is (not very) significantly slow. About half a second or 3rd of a second should be enough. The purpose is:

  1. It should add a delay to the attacker if they are trying to run a combination of passwords to gain access.
  2. It should not affect the UX.

There are many algorithms that keep the iterations to a number of 10,000 or so. The namespace that I had talked of, Microsoft.AspNet.Cryptography has the objects that allow you to specify the iteration, salt addition etc.

Remember: For online applications, do not increase the iteration count. You would indirectly cause a bad UX for the users who are waiting for a response.

Add salt to the recipe

I wonder who started the terminology of salt in cryptography. He must have a good taste in computers, I’d say. I did cover most of the parts of adding the salts in the article that I have added in the references section, please refer to that article. However, I would like to share the code that I have used to generate a random salt for the password. Adding the salt would help you randomize the password itself. Suppose, a user had a password of, “helloserver”, another one had the same password too. By default the hash would be alike but if you add a random salt to it, it would randomize the password.

In .NET Core, you can use the “RandomNumberGenerator” to create the salt that can be used for the password.

private static string getSalt() {
    byte[] bytes = new byte[128 / 8];
    using (var keyGenerator = RandomNumberGenerator.Create()) {
        keyGenerator.GetBytes(bytes);
 
        return BitConverter.ToString(bytes).Replace("-", "").ToLower();
    }
}

This would create a few random bytes and then would return them to be used for the passwords.

string[] passwords = { "PASSWORD", "P@SSW0RD", "password", "p@ssw0rd" };
 
foreach (var password in passwords) {
    string salt = getSalt();
    Console.WriteLine($@"{{
       'password': '{password}', 
       'salt': '{salt}',
       'hash': '{getHash(password + salt)}'
       }}"
    );
}

This shows how the passwords with “random salt” differ.

Screenshot (974)
Figure 6: Passwords with their salts being hashed. 

Have a look at the hashes now. The hashes differ from what they were before. Also, notice that the function returns a different salt every time which makes it possible to generate different hashes for even the similar passwords. One of the benefits of this is, that your passwords would be secure from a rainbow table attack.

Test: We saw that unsalted passwords are easy to be reverse looked up. In this, case, we salted the password and we are going to test the last of our password to see if there is a match.

Screenshot (976)
Figure 7: Password not found.

Great, isn’t it? The password was not matched against any case in the password dictionary. This gives us an extra layer of security because hacker won’t be able to convert the password back to their original form by using a reverse look up table.

Using salt: the good way

There is no good way of using the salt, there is no standard to be followed while adding the salt to the password. It is just an extra “random” string to be added to your password strings before their are hashed. There are many common ways, some add salt to the end, some prepend it some do the both.

Do as you please.:-) There are however a few tips that you should keep in mind while salting the passwords.

  1. Do not reuse the salts.
  2. Do not try to extract the salts from the passwords or usernames.
  3. Use suitable salt size; 128-bit?
  4. Use random salt.
    • You should consider using a good library for generating the salts.
  5. Store the salts and passwords together. Random salts won’t be created again (in a near future).

References:

  1. Avalanche effect
  2. Hashing Passwords using ASP.NET’s Crypto Class
  3. Guide for building C# apps on Ubuntu: Cryptographic helpers
  4. What are the differences between dictionary attack and brute force attack?

Final words

In this post, I demonstrated the hashing techniques in .NET Core, although the procedure is similar and very much alike. There are a few differences that the objects are not similar. The object instantiation is not similar and in my own opinion, this is also going to change sooner.

I gave you a good overview of password hashing, how to crack them (actually, how an attacker may crack them) and how you can add an extra layer of security. Besides, you should consider adding more security protocols to your own application to secure it from other hacking techniques too.

A simple guide to setting up home server using IIS and ASP.NET

Hey everyone, it’s been a very long time since I wrote anything at all, my apologies, it had been my exams and I had been very busy these days. But, now I’m back. This time I am writing a guide to setting up your own personal server at home. Typically, I write about stuff from ground up, but for the sake of speed, I will like you to have a bit of background of a few of the things. I will try my best to cover them too, but excuse me if I miss a few things. These are because I want to cover a lot of things in this one single guide, and then I will write about other configurations and updates in a later post.

Introduction and Background

I had been working on ways to allow my family to communicate through proper use of their devices, however, every method required a third-party software to communicate. Plus, it required a working internet connection. If the requirement is just the connectivity and not the Internet-connectivity, I thought why not I create a server for home that would let us to communicate, share items without having to pass it through third-party networks, besides, who trusts them? That was not the main reason, the main reason that I also enjoyed building a server for the family.:-)

In this post, I will walk you guys through building your own web server, you can for sure then update the web application, configure the services as you need! In this post, I will walk you through the following:

  1. Setting up the server.
    • I am using Windows Server 2012 for my purposes. I will walk you through installation of IIS (Microsoft’s web server) and a few other components required. You can install other components as required.
    • Setting up an IP address to be used on your server.
  2. Setting up ASP.NET environment.
    • You do have to install ASP.NET components before IIS can execute ASP.NET code in your web application.
  3. Setting up Web Deploy.
    • I don’t do web development on server (AKA hosting) environment. Instead, I will be developing the stuff on my own laptop. Then, I will require a service to deploy the stuff on the server.
    • I will walk you through setting up the Web Deploy on server.
    • I will walk you through setting up the publish profile file, to be used while publishing the web application to server through Visual Studio.
  4. Publishing and running the web application.

I assume you have the basic ideas and understanding of how this stuff works, what a server is, how your web applications work, how IP addressing works and what a DNS is. I will try my best to explain these components to you too, but if I miss out anything, excuse me. Sometimes my posts do get hard to understand, if they do, just ping me and I will make things clear, it’s really hard to think of so many things at the same time…😉

Now, I will break the procedure down and will write about them in steps.

Setting up the server

First of all, let’s talk about setting up the server. Nothing special here, just installation of Windows Server. I could have used other servers, but then I would have needed to add patches to my applications and so on. So, instead of this, I would recommend that you just install Windows Server on your machine. You can get an evaluation copy from Microsoft, Try Windows Server 2012. Later, just install the Windows Server, I am sure you know how to do that. Also before you continue, please read the requirements for Windows Server.

You can find the explanation and procedures for installing Windows Server online. Learning procedures are also very much simple. Microsoft itself has invested a lot of good resources online for teaching and fine-tuning IT professionals. So you can learn using Windows Server from there too.

References:

  1. What’s New in Windows Server 2012 R2 Jump Start
  2. Windows Server 2012: Web and Application Platform

Configuring the IP address to be used

If you have ever been in networking, then you already know that every device has an IP address that is used to communicate with it. Since, our server will be the hub for our communications. We need to ensure that the IP address doesn’t change. So, we would assign the IP address to our server which we would like to be used throughout the network.

Note: I will later talk about using hostnames and how to setup DNS servers on your servers for friendly URLs. For this post, let’s keep things simple and numeric.

To open the configuration window, follow the steps:

  1. Open the Network and Sharing center.
  2. Select “Change adapter settings”
  3. Select the device that you are connecting through. There may be an Ethernet connection and a Wireless connection available. Select the one that you want to use. Right click → Open the Properties Window.
  4. We are going to update the IPv4 settings and we are just going to assign the IP address we want the device to use. So, in the list provided, select the option with “Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4)”. Double click.

By default, mostly, “Obtain an IP address automatically” is selected, we are going to override the default settings so we need to change this option to the one that we want. But remember, we don’t want to tinker with the DNS, Subnet mask and the gateway being used. First things that you need to understand are the local addresses in the IPv4 range. A private IP address belongs to the local network instead of the external networks such as Internet. The local IP address ranges are:

  1. 10.0.0.0 to 10.255.255.255
  2. 172.16.0.0 to 172.31.255.255
  3. 192.168.0.0 to 192.168.255.255

So, you can use any of the range from this, and assign this IP to your server. Your router will be able to detect the computer, however, the request won’t be sent to external networks because that is not where the IP address belongs to; local network’s IP address. So, according to my own address, network system and addresses. I will set things to the default ones that my ISP provides me with but will select a random IP address from the local range.

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Figure 1: Configuring the IP address for the server.

Later, we will be using a DNS server to configure how we use the service on our devices and so on. Until this step, our server is set up and we can now install the web server to handle the incoming requests and to forward them to a “web application”. Head on to the next step.

Installing the components — and IIS

In Windows Server, you don’t have to get the executables for everything, instead you just enable and disable the services, much like Turning Windows feature on or off. In Windows Server, open your Server Manager.

13288130_1069204476479760_1806657737_oFigure 2: Server Manager application in Windows Server.

In that,

  1. Select “Add roles and features”. This feature is used to add more services to the environment and to add or remove features from the server.
  2. Select “Role-based or feature-based installation”.
  3. Select the server. By default there will be just one server listed. If you have multiple, select the one that you want to use for the installation of the feature.
  4. Select the features and roles that you want to install on your machine.
    • For this section, I will just install IIS server. Select “Web Server (IIS)” and install. It is also recommended that you install .NET 4.5 features from the features list.
    • Add more features as per requirement of your server and the services that you are going to build for.
  5. Finally Install the selected components.

I typically do a machine restart after installing every component or service. This is not required all the times however, most of the times you should restart the machine to ensure that the components are installed and are running properly.

Now let’s dissect IIS sections in bits and study what we got there… To start IIS manager, open the Start menu and search for “inetmgr“, it would give you the application for IIS server.

13271866_1069204489813092_1090144792_o
Figure 3: IIS server main page shown.

You can see that this portal now lets you create new sites, connect to applications, configure the server properties, their IP addresses, domains. Even it allows you to get helpful material from peers such as TechNet, ASP.NET official website, IIS official website and much more. Navigate down to the server, by default IIS has a “Default Web Site” web site created in the environment, which is used to test whether the server works or not. You can here configure and update the server itself. You can modify the certificates, HTTP handlers, SMTP management and everything that is related to your server. Usually, everything will be managed automatically, you won’t need to do anything complex. However, in many cases you will personally have to change the state of the machine and the framework.

13262522_1069204499813091_532248963_o
Figure 4: Default Web Site home page visible in IIS server.

I had installed other components related to ASP.NET itself, which may not be visible in your machine at the moment. If everything is similar, great, if not, continue reading as I will also teach you about configuring the ASP.NET framework on Windows Server.

Look to the right panel, it contains everything that you want to do with your application. It contains quick actions such as restarting the application, configuring the application, installing more services from built in galleries and much more.

Web Platform Installer

Another excellent feature to talk about here is the Web Platform Installer. This application allows you to install the best of the Microsoft products in no time. It scans your machine, checks it for updates, new software package releases and allows you to install them by directly downloading the packages on your machine.

main-webpi-download
Figure 5: Web Platform Installer can be used to install any software package relative to your machine architecture and operating system.

I wanted to talk about this great product by Microsoft, I have really enjoyed it since my days when I was starting learning how to program using WebMatrix. I really miss that tool too, but since Microsoft is no longer updating it, and Visual Studio is a beast, I don’t use or recommend it to anyone.

References:

  1. Adding Server Roles and Features
  2. Official IIS website

Setting up ASP.NET environment

Installing the IIS itself is not enough, ASP.NET doesn’t come pre-shipped with it. You need to go to Server Manager and install the ASP.NET components, I suggest you install maximum of these components. Although, they are not required and only those components are required which you are going to use and which would be required in the production application. In the roles section, go to, Web Server → Web Server → Application Development.

13275301_1069220659811475_904150246_o
Figure 6: Installation of ASP.NET feature on Windows Server.

Select the frameworks that you want to install on your machine. They are required before you can actually publish the stuff on your server. I selected ASP.NET 4.5 and the platform select the dependencies to be installed. I had already installed the framework so it turned that to gray in color to show that the selection is disabled. If you want to select any more features that you want, such as Classic ASP (by the way, why?) then you can select that from the list and then finally go to the final stage and click, “Install”.

This would take some time, depending on many things, such as internet connection, your machine hardware, etc.

I suggest you restart the machine, to ensure things are working properly. Now that everything has been set up, we now need to publish an application to our server that we would be using through that IP address that we just assigned to our servers. But before we do so, it won’t be a good idea to always go back and copy paste or send the files and then replace the files here and there. Even though this is a personal project, things may get really tough and confusing when you have to publish the changes to the server. So, for that sake, we are going to use Web Deploy tool and we are going to connect our development tools with the server itself. You must be familiar with Web Deploy tool, aren’t you?

Setting up Web Deploy

Before continuing to the final stages, I wanted to ensure that all of my changes can be pushed to the servers without having to change and update the content myself. Microsoft Web Deploy is one such feature. It allows you to deploy the content remotely, updating the registries, files and other stuff. However, we are interested in another feature, “Publish Profile” file generation. This is a plain-XML file, used to configure the deployment process of the machines. Currently, Web Deploy 3.6 has been released.

Web Deploy would allow you to publish the changes to your project to your server, hosting environment, in no time! I really love this feature because I have been working on a few updates for my website and Web Deploy proved itself to be very simple, through the procedures like publish profile files where settings are saved in XML, and Visual Studio takes care of connections and publishing. To install Web Deploy, you need to enable the “Windows Deployment Services” role in Server Manager. This role would allow your server to be connected through remote devices for publishing purposes. Later, you can use the Web Platform Installer to install the Web Deploy service.

13275376_1069247266475481_1528371918_o
Figure 7: Windows Deployment Services option shown in gray; third last.

Web PI manages most of the dependencies itself. So, if you select a framework or package to be installed, Web PI would itself manage the dependencies that a package requires to be existing on the machine environment.

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Figure 8: Web PI showing the list of Web Deploy packages found on the servers.

We’re — almost — done now. The final step is to configure the publish profile file. We would be using that file in our development environment to publish the web application.

References:

  1. Web Deploy
  2. Installing and Configuring Web Deploy on IIS 8.0 or Later

Configuring deployment options

Every application requires a different directory, thus every web application would require a different profile to be used while deploying the application to the servers. I am going to talk about the default ones. The default web site can be configured to support Web Deploy based remote deployment of the application’s source code.

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Figure 9: Configuring the web deploy publishing option in web application in IIS manager.

Next you will select the settings that you want to do for the publishing of the application. They are simple and easy to understand.

13262145_1069254479808093_1777487270_o
Figure 10: Web Deploy configuration window.

I will now walk you through these options that you can configure as per your own needs.

  1. User: This is the user account that you will use to publish the website on behalf of. You should create a separate user account and then use their configuration as the authentication while publishing. I used the administrator account because I wanted to keep things simple.
  2. SQL Server connection string: The connection string to be used, for SQL Server.
  3. MySQL connection string: Same as above, but for MySQL instead.
  4. URL: This is the location where the server resides.
  5. Location: This is where you will find this publish profile file once it has been saved.

Once you are happy with the settings, just click, “Setup”. This would process the settings and will finally create the file for you to send over to your development environment. I will leave the development stages and steps for sake of simplicity, instead I will continue to publishing step. I will, however, be adding the references to my previous posts related to ASP.NET programming.

Publishing and running the web application

Once everything has been done, you can just send the publish profile to your development environment to publish the web application. You can send it through any method, any medium as required.

To proceed, select Build → Publish {ProjectName}. This would allow you to select from a bunch of options, what you want to do. Click on “Import” and then select the publish profile file, this would allow you to select the same settings that you have configured from your server.

Screenshot (7025)
Figure 11: Publish dialog in Visual Studio.

Select the file that you just pushed to the development environment. VIsual Studio would automatically read the file and would fill the fields.

The actual XML file content are:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<publishData>
  <publishProfile
     publishUrl="https://WIN-UEN6KL61CTO:8172/msdeploy.axd"
     msdeploySite="Default Web Site"
     destinationAppUrl="http://WIN-UEN6KL61CTO:80/"
     mySQLDBConnectionString=""
     SQLServerDBConnectionString=""
     profileName="Default Settings"
     publishMethod="MSDeploy"
     userName="WIN-UEN6KL61CTO\Administrator" />
</publishData>

These are the similar values that we had. Now, we can see in the following image that Visual Studio uses the same values and builds the procedure itself. It would use these values to publish the web application.

Screenshot (7026)
Figure 12: Settings for publish profiles in Visual Studio.

It is not required, but you should at least test the connection. This would allow you to test the connection before pushing the web content to the destination.

Note that the “Password” field is empty. Password was not sent on the wire. We are required to enter the password for that user account; that server password. This step depends on how you design the system to publish the web application, if you use another account which doesn’t require the password, this would be a stupid idea in my opinion. So always keep an account (also, remember to keep an account other than the Admin account) and use its credentials. Use SSL to transfer the content on your production servers. After that, you should be able to submit the web application to the server.

Tuning and configuring

Not all the times a web application would work in its first attempt. You will face many problems, many hurdles. There are many good communities available which you can use to ask for help when you run into trouble. Just ensure that you understand what runtime is your application asking for, and which is available and much more.

I won’t write the ASP.NET code here, instead I will just show the default page content that my application has, before I actually show the rendering result of that page.

<p style="font-size: 10em;">Welcome :-)</p>

That would be enough to test the application.:-)

Screenshot (7027)
Figure 13: Welcome message shown on the homepage of website.

As expected, notice two things.

  1. The IP address that we had set up for the server.
  2. Message that we had wanted to be shown on the browser screen.

This shows that we have now set up the server as we would want to. We can now continue to add more features to it and keep working on them to bring them to devices.😉 Also, did you notice that I also have API in the navigation menu. It means that I will also post stuff about consuming the Web API through native mobile devices. Many things are coming during these 2 months. I would like you guys to let me know if you find that I have missed something from the post.

Points of Interest

I did have to go through a few problems, because of the resources being locked by IIS. Then there were a few problems with the .NET framework mismatch. Anyways, the process was very simple, robust and fast. I enjoyed building the server and the consumption of the web application.

I did not introduce database usage, authentication, which will be handled later in other posts. However, this post was just intended to explain the basic concepts of building up your own custom server for your own purposes. I will be posting other stuff that I find interesting in this process. I am also going to write it up as a guide that you may want to download later from C# Corner. I really like their way of publishing the content, you can get more of their eBooks from their community website.

I hope, you find this post interesting and simple to grasp. Phew! See you next time.:-)

Why to use C# and when to prefer other languages?!

Introduction and Background

Either it is Quora, or is it C# Corner or is it CodeProject, beginners and novice users are always asking questions like, “Which one to use, C++ or C#?”, and many more similar questions. It is harder to provide an answer to such questions on multiple platforms and to multiple questions. That is why, I thought, why not post a blog post to cover most of the aspects of the question. In this post I am going to cover a few of the concepts that you may want to understand to chose either language from the most widely used languages:

  1. C or C++
  2. Java
  3. C# (or .NET framework itself)

Basically, my own preference in many cases is C#, but that depends on what I am going to build. I have been using C, C++, Java and C# in many applications depending on their needs, depending on how they allow me to write the programs and depending on whether it is the suitable programming language for this type of project and application architecture.

The way, I do that, is just a trick. Which, I am going to share with you, in this blog post. Among these a few of the very basic things to consider are:

  1. How simple and easy it would be to use this language in the program?
  2. What is the productivity of that language in your scenario!
  3. Difficulty level and how many people know the language!

I will be talking about these things points in this post, so to make it clear where to use which programming language. But my major concern in this post would be to cover the aspects of C# programming language.

Productivity of language

First thing to always consider about the language is the productivity that a programming language can provide your team with. Productivity of the language depends on many factors, such as:

  1. How programs are built in that language?
  2. How fast and reliable is it to build the project regularly?
  3. Is the program’s source code readable for other members on the team?
  4. Is the language itself suitable for the case that we are going to use it in.

Productivity of the language, in my opinion, is the first thing to consider as the valid candidate to always discuss in the team and not just talk about in a black room. You should manage to get your teams up in a conference room, and then talk about a language. There may be many aspects where one language may fall short and other may get well. There would be many factors that most of the programmers don’t know but talking about them one of the geek would stand up and raise another important point that may guide your team to walk on the correct paths to build greater applications.

Let’s talk a bit graph.

chart
Figure 1: Productivity graph of most widely used programming languages.

In this chart we can see that C is the most productive programming language, of which we are interested in; C, C++, Java and C#. C++ and C# are competing with each other, whereas Java is a bit behind than C# and so on.

In the above graph, it is clear that C# is an average programming language. The average doesn’t mean it is below the requirement. But it means that it can be used in any case, and its performance won’t fall as the data increases. The successful run graph shows that C# programs are much successful in many cases. That is why, in many cases, C# proves to be the valid candidate in many cases, since it is a general purpose programming language.

Then the question arises, “Productive in which sense?

That is the most important part here. Now, this topic may take a bit more of the time to explain how productive a language is. For that, I have dedicated the topic, “Choosing the right language for the right task“. The right programming language for the right task would always help you to elevate the speed of the programming of your team! But among other aspects, the most important ones are:

  1. What sort of project this is?
    • Of course you don’t want to use knife to unscrew a screw.
  2. What are the IDE and compilation tools present?
    • Even a program written in C can go wrong if compile is buggy or inefficient.
  3. How your team would like to manage the projects?
    • Does the language support good software engineering concepts?
    • Can it be used to generate good diagrams: Use-case, activity, class and other diagrams.

Thus, you should always consider thinking about the productivity of your development team while guessing which language to be used.

Choosing the right language for the right task

It is always stated to use the best tool for the best jobs! Then, why not use the best programming language for your projects, to get the best possible results? Before I continue any further, there is one thing I want to mentioned… “There is no best programming language ever built.” Every time a programming language is built for a purpose, another group of programmers jump in to create a new programming language, for the sake of fixing the errors in the previous language. What do you think motivated Bjarne to create C++ when there was C language and Scala already in the market?

In this section, there are many things to consider, from the performance and benefits to the clients, to the perk packages for the employees to the efficiencies of the project repositories and the tools provided for that programming languages.

C# was created by Microsoft and therefore, in my opinion, has, by far, the most efficient tools for programming. I mean, Visual Studio, alone is the beast in this game.

visual-studio-2013-logo
Figure 2: Visual Studio logo.

I am a huge fan of Visual Studio, and i would doubt someone who isn’t a fan of Visual Studio. C# has a better support and benefit of using the best IDE out there. Java has also a number of IDE, so does C++ and many of the C programs are written in minimal environments, like a small program to manage and compile the C programs; no offence geeks!

2013-12-27-csharp-for-systems-programming
Figure 3: Graph of performance to safety ratio.

Now, if you look at this graph, it’s pretty much clear as to what it is trying to guide you with. Of course, as I had mentioned in the starting paragraph here, that there is no best programming language.

In many cases, C# and Java rule over C++ (and C) and in many cases, they rule over C# and Java. There are many factors, like the programming paradigms, performance of the code that is generated; Just-in-time compilation, memory-management delay and so on. While C# and Java may provide the best environment to build “managed” programs in, there are many cases where C# and java don’t work well, like writing a low-level program. Java developers wanted to build a Java OS, but they had to give up because something’s aren’t meant to be done in Java.:-)

Always consider to search before making the final call. There are many companies working in the similar field that you are going to work in. There would be many packages and languages built for your own field that may help you to get started in no time!

top201020programming20languages-100422646-orig
Figure 4: Top 10 programming languages.

But, I think these are a bit backwards. I think, C is on the top because it causes a lot of trouble to beginners, so everyone is searching for “How to do {this} in C” on Google, raising the rankings.😉

Selecting the best framework

I don’t totally agree with people when it comes to talk about frameworks like, Java, Qt (which I do like in many cases; like Ubuntu programming), and other programming frameworks available for programming applications to be run despite the architecture of the machine. In this case, my recommendation and personal views for .NET framework are very positive. As, already mentioned, I have programmed on Qt framework for Android, Ubuntu and Linux itself. It was a really very powerful framework to build applications on. But the downside was it was tough to learn, their compilers were modified, their C++ was tinkered.

While selecting the best framework for application development by choices are below:

  1. How much flexible a framework is?
  2. What language does it support?
    • Some frameworks support multiple languages, like .NET framework, it supports C#, VB.NET, Visual C++, JavaScript applications.
  3. Is it cross-platform?
  4. If not cross-platform, then does it support multiple architectures, at least?

Java framework is cross-platform, and entirely framework oriented. You simply have to target the framework despite the operating system or architecture being used. .NET framework on the other hand is a very beautiful framework to write applications on. It uses C#, VB.NET and C++ (no Java!) to write the applications, and then the compiled binaries can be executed on many machines that can support .NET framework. This provides an excellent cross-architecture support.

C# however, does not support Mac OS X, at the moment. Microsoft has started to roll out cross-platform binaries for C# programs. .NET Core has been a great success and once it gets released to a public version, I am sure most of the companies would start to target it. That is not going to happen, in a near future. In which case, Java and C++ are better than C#.

If you are interested in C# programming on multiple platforms, consider using Mono Project instead. You can read about that, on my blog here: Using C# for cross-platform development.

spectrum
Figure 5: Top languages and their platforms of usage.

Java may be supported 100% in the rankings, but C# is also supporting multiple platforms and is rapidly growing making the language better than the rest. With the release of C# 6, Microsoft has proved that the language is much better than the rest in the race. There are many features that I like C# 6:

  1. String interpolation
  2. Getter-only auto-properties as lambdas
  3. Improvements to lambdas

There are a few things Java still doesn’t have. For example, one statement code to write the data to the files and to extract the data. You have to get messy in the streams, or you have to write an entirely non-intuitive code with Files object and then to get the data from there… Yuk!

Performance of the compiled code

Writing the source code may be different in many ways:

  1. Syntax of the programming language.
  2. The way their objects and procedures are imported in the source code.
  3. How clean the source code looks. Many programming languages are just nightmares.

But the major concern comes to mind when we are going to execute the programs. In many cases, or should I say in all the cases, the language which are bytecoded languages, lag behind than the languages that are compiled to native codes or Assembly codes. For example, C or C++ codes are faster, because they are not compiled to a bytecode instead they are generated as machine codes for a platform or architecture. C# or Java programs are compiled down to a bytecode which causes a JIT to occur when the programs are executed. This takes time.

However, you can see the following charts from https://attractivechaos.github.io/plb/ and see for yourself, the way bytecoded languages are similar and how much compiled languages are different, see for yourself.

plb-lang
Figure 6: Mathematical calculations.
plb-lib
Figure 7: Pattern matching and machine learning.

Which makes it pretty much clear, how much compiled language are faster than bytecoded, and then come the ones that are interpreted, like Ruby.

In many cases, there are other factors too, which cause bad performance:

  1. Bad compiler.
  2. A lot of resources being allocated.
  3. Slow hardware resources; bad combination of CPU, RAM and other peripherals.
  4. Bad programmer and bad code being used.
  5. Bad practices of programming.
  6. Keeping CPU halted for most of the times.

Much more are a valid candidates for the halting processes.

Finally… Final words

As I have already mentioned that there is no best programming language out there. One language is best in one case, other is best in another case and so on and so forth. In such cases, it is always better to communicate with your development team and then ask them questions and ask for their feedbacks. Choosing the good tools for your projects is always a good approach and good step in the process of programming.

If your software engineer or software architect are trying to find a good solution, ask them to work on the following questions:

  1. What are the teams and developers qualified for?
    • Asking a team of C++ programmers to leave C++ and join Java or C# programming teams is not a good idea!
    • Always consider the best approach.
    • Time is money — Manage it with care.
    • Recruit more programmers with skills.
  2. Is the programming language long lived, or a minor one?
  3. Is programming language capable of making your application work?
    • I have used many programming languages, and thus I can decide which language to use. This is the job of your software architect to decide which languages to select.

If you follow these rules, you will save yourself from many of the future questions that cause a lot of problems. Many times developers ask questions like, “I have an application in Java, how to migrate it to C#?” Many web developers ask questions like, “I have a PHP application, how to convert PHP code to ASP.NET?” These questions have only answer. “Re-write the applications”.

There are many things that you should consider before designing the applications. Facebook is stuck with PHP, because it was written in PHP. Even if they wanted to migrate to ASP.NET, they won’t. Instead, they have found a work around the PHP bugs and downsides.

This is why, you should always consider using a conference or meeting to decide how to start the project, which programming language to use, what frameworks to target, who would lead the team and much more. These few days of discussion and designing would save you a lot of money and time in future.

Understanding the Visual Studio IDE for R language

Introduction and Background

Previously we had talked much about installing and setting up the environment for R language. In this post, I will walk you through different stuff that Visual Studio provides you with. Typically, every R IDE supports the following tools and features for data processing.

  1. A scripting toolkit; where you can write R language code.
  2. An R interactive shell for executing the commands.
  3. Plot builder for plotting the graphics.
  4. Markdown editors and much more.

I will walk you through these windows in Visual Studio IDE itself and would give examples of using Visual Studio as your default IDE for R programming. In my personal (and humble) opinion, I think Visual Studio is the best IDE out there, provided its simplicity, ease of use and now that the price has also dropped down to zero for personal use! What more can someone ask for?:-)

Exploring Visual Studio for R

I have talked about the things that we are going to explore in this post. Those are listed above, and in this section I am going to expand them and I am going to demonstrate what benefit they have for R developers in the industry of data science.

visual-studio-2013-logo
Figure 1: Visual Studio logo.

Besides R, Visual Studio is also going to have the tools for Java programming. At least, I am very much excited about Visual Studio’s future, in which it is going to be used as a universal IDE. But in this post we should just focus on the R tools provided. If you have not yet set up the R tools for Visual Studio, I recommend that you read the post of mine for that, Installing and setting up R environment on Windows. This would help you to set up the environment for data analysis using R language.

1. R code editor

First thing to know about in any IDE for any programming language, is the code editor that it has. Code editors are simply the text editors, but there are a few other additional features that it has apart from the ordinary text editing and caching services. Visual Studio code editor provides the following powerful features:

  1. R syntax highlighting.
    • Every IDE should support syntax highlighting and highlight the different data types, different keywords and the scope resolutions like matching brackets.
  2. Autocomplete suggestions.
    • Visual Studio calls them IntelliSense, which provides the easy way of writing the programs. It provides the clean way of providing suggestions for function calls and the parameter lists.
  3. Squiggly lines for errors
    • It is better to show off the errors in the language syntax or commands, before programmers build their project and finally stumble upon the errors. Visual Studio shows the errors if there are any, in the commands using the interpreters!

Screenshot (3147)
Figure 1: Visual Studio code editor.

This is the most basic usage of the code editor at now.  Visual Studio renders the codes in their own format, R syntax has been implemented in Visual Studio to support for string literals, keywords, comments and matching brackets.

You should consider using the R code editor instead of using a plain-text file to write the R scripts.

2. R interactive shell

Every interpreted programming language has an interactive shell. Python has it, so does R because R is an interpreted language. Interactive shells allow you to execute minimal programs, commands, and test the environment itself. They are also used to compile (interpret!) and execute the statements in the source file that you may have somewhere.

Visual Studio supports the Interactive Shell. If you do not find it, it is right there under R Tools → Windows → R Interactive. The WIndow allows you to enter the commands to:

  1. Create new variables in the environment.
  2. Explore the environment.
  3. Print the variables.
  4. Perform calculations on the data.

Screenshot (3232)
Figure 2: R interactive shell.

You can see that the R project starts, and then it allows the users to enter the commands that are to be tested or executed in the R environment. If you pay a bit more attention, you will see that i am currently running Microsoft’s R Open,

Screenshot (3232) - Copy
Figure 3: Microsoft R Open being used in the shell.

This allows you to add the commands which require execution. You can perform many functions in this shell as already mentioned above.

Screenshot (3235)
Figure 4: Executing commands in R Interactive Shell.

You can also run other versions of the R. But, Microsoft R Open is the Microsoft’s implementation and distribution of R language. To change the currently active engine to be used for R, you need to have other versions of R installed on your machine. If they are available, then you can update the current active R engine from the settings themselves. Just select R Tools → Options. Inside those options, select the path for the R engine’s installation folder.

Screenshot (3233)
Figure 5: Options in R Tools.

Select this field and update the directory which it targets to target another directory for a different R engine. Once done, you can restart the Visual Studio to take the actions.

3. Plotting graphs

Another great feature of R programming is that it provides you with native support for graphical presentations. If you want to build charts, pie charts and bar charts or graphs. You can get the functions that can do the trick for you! In no time, you will be up and running your own projects, presentations and anything.

Benefit is that R generates quality and enterprise ready graphics, not just careless graphics! You can show the R plot window by either executing the command for plotting the graph or by manually opening it. To select the R plot, you can go to R Tools → Windows → R Plot. You can then direct R to build and generate the graphics on the plotter, a few of the commands used are:

  1. Pie
  2. Plot
  3. Barplot

You can use these commands to build the graphics, based on the data sets or vectors that you have. You can consult any of the statistical book or guide to learn more about charts and how they are used to render the data on the graphical level.

Just to demonstrate, I am going to use the following data, assuming they are marks:

> a <- c(55, 73, 44, 85, 65, 76)

Execute this, and R would create a variable in the environment.

Using plot()

First function to use is the plot() function. It plots the dotted graph of the points. Execute the following function,

> plot(a)

Following is the result of this command in the shell:

Screenshot (3236)
Figure 6: Plotting the dotted graph.

You can change how text is rendered and how the indices are selected, too!

Using barplot()

Next I would like to talk about the barplot() function that generates the graphics in the bar graph form. You pass the elements, and then it would generate the output in the bars form. The benefit is that you can compare how long a bar is, as compared to another one.

To get a bar graph, execute the following command:

> barplot(a)

The following output would be captured by you:

Screenshot (3237)
Figure 7: Bar graph for the data set.

This shows the data in a bar graph form. This is more readable and is easily understood. You can see how our graph is built and how the indices are selected for our data sets. You can then perform other actions, which I will talk about later before ending this section.

Using pie()

Pie is another kind of graphical notation in which we can render the data, to learn about it, read any basic statistical guide or course book. The pie uses the shape of a pie to render the graph. But, it uses the ratio of each data item to slice the pie into different sections to demonstrate their part in the pie.

To build a pie chart, use the following command:

> pie(a)

This would result in the following:

Screenshot (3238)
Figure 8: Pie chart graph.

Although this uses 1, 2, 3…6 to label. You can change them later in the function call. But I just want to tell you how Visual Studio can help you to have multiple windows working simultaneously for your project.

Features of R Plot

I mentioned that I will talk about the features of the R Plot. One of the best feature is that they are native. You do not need to import any extra package or library. But you can import other libraries, if you like any other implementation of the graphs.

Secondly, R Plot allows you to import the graphics in the form of:

  1. PNG images
  2. PDF documents

Which makes it even more easier to share the graphics that you render using the data set of your own environment.

Generating documents — R Markdown

Finally, I would like to talk about the R Markdown a bit. I think, this is one of the best things that R has right now. If you have ever been to Stack Overflow, GitHub or other similar websites, you would know that they already support a markdown that can be used to generate and render the HTML in a much simpler way. For example,

Hello _everyone_! I am using the following code

```
var obj = new Object();
```

// Would result in
<p>Hello <i>everyone</i>! I am using the following code</p>

<pre>
var obj = new Object();
</pre>

Which makes it much easier to render the documents in a much simpler way. Instead of writing a complex, standard or platform based language. You write a third-party standard, which is then converted to another standard. R Markdown does the same thing. You use it to generate the documents. The benefit is that you can use a single R markdown document to build multiple documents of multiple types and kinds:

  1. PDF documents
  2. HTML documents
  3. Word documents
  4. Other documents, supported!

Thus, it seriously elevates the document generation for the research that you have just conducted. Plus, it allows embedding the document code which can be executed when needed, such as generating the charts, calculating the means and so on and so forth.

In Visual Studio, you can create a new R Markdown document just the way you would create any other file in Visual Studio. Right click → Add → New Item → R Markdown.

This document can contain the plain-markdown content, which would be then rendered and compiled based on the medium that you want to render the data in.

References

To learn more about R Markdown, please refer to the following links:

  1. R Markdown
  2. Knitr with R Markdown

Points of Interest

In this post I have talked about and walked you around many aspects of using R programming in Visual Studio IDE. Visual Studio is, no doubt, the best programming IDE available and providing the services for R programming is a great step by Microsoft.

RTVS
Figure 9: Visual Studio IDE having 4 windows of R tools open.

I assume, using Visual Studio for R programming is pretty much explained in this post, and in the later posts I will walk you through using R language for real projects and real time data processing and analysis.

In the later posts, I will talk about using R programming in real world projects. Hold tight, it’s going to be an excellent data science journey.:-)

Guide for building C# apps on Ubuntu: Graphical applications using Windows Forms

Introduction and Background

I took more than necessary break in posting the content and articles for Ubuntu programming in C#. Anyways, I am continuing from the same place where I left and, as already taught that we were at the final stages of sharing the guide for programming C# on Ubuntu; which can be thought of as a Linux environment. The previous posts can be found easily on my blog and on some of the networks that I support.

Previously, we had already talked about NuGet gallery packages, cryptographic helpers and much more. Whereas, in this post I am going to walk you people through using Windows Forms framework on Mono framework.

Windows Forms framework

Now, who doesn’t know Windows Forms framework in today’s world? If you have ever wanted to or have developed the C# programs or .NET applications. Then you are already familiar with Windows Forms application. Windows Forms is an old framework with graphical capabilities, and has been in the game for a more than a decade by now! It has started to get replaced by Windows Presentation Foundation, but nonetheless, it is still very popular and is being used widely by many software developers and many software development companies are still relying on it.

There are many benefits of using Windows Forms in your regular development teams,

  1. It supports graphics, not just the CPU and RAM processing.
  2. It can be used with resources for localization support is excellent.
  3. Provides a better way for drawing graphics on canvas.
  4. Event handling, delegate generation.
  5. Asynchronous programming patterns.
  6. Good data binding support provided.

I am going to provide you with some good references that you can use to learn more about Windows Forms, if sadly, you have no idea about the Windows Forms framework. However, one thing is for granted. Using Windows Forms is one of the easiest ways of building the graphical applications in ,NET environment.

References

Follow the following links and learn more about Windows Forms:

  1. Windows Forms
  2. Getting Started with Windows Forms
  3. Windows Forms Overview

Graphical applications in Mono Project

We have until now, discussed and learnt how to build small programs and some very common applications that use special kind of algorithms, such as cryptographic helpers which can be used to encrypt and decrypt the data in Ubuntu using C#. Now, until this we haven’t covered graphical applications development in Mono, because that is where this framework lags behind.  So, in this post we would like to learn how to build applications with graphical capabilities too. But, first, let’s talk about the frameworks provided in Mono Project itself.

  1. GTK#
    • Which is a similar one to the GTK+ that C++ programmers have. This is a graphical toolkit that compiles down to the native code generation. It supports the native look and feel and can be used. But, it is somewhat difficult to learn!
      Banshee1
      Figure 1: GTK# control application example.
  2. Windows Forms
    • This is the topic that we are going to cover in this post.
  3. Other tools?
    • Not yet, Mono Project is not ready to implement other frameworks yet.

The thing is, Mono Project doesn’t have an excellent UI designer as we have in Visual Studio.

Screenshot (3062)
Figure 2: Visual Studio UI Designer.

In Mono Project and Xamarin Studio, you are not provided with the similar tools until now. However, the designer is just the wrapper around the back-end code available. Xamarin Studio does have a good designer, but that works with GTK# tools and controls only. Not in the case of Windows Forms.

Applying a quick hack!

If you have ever programmed for Windows Forms, then you would know that Windows Forms is actually a bunch of objects with many fields and properties, which run and work to render the graphics on the screen. The same is applicable here. We would be using the codes to render the stuff on the screen. Basically, everything that you have on the screen is a field in the backend class, such as “Button”, “TextBox”, “Label” etc. These are all going to be used, but, we are going to write the codes for this, instead of having a designer build them up for us.

Building the UI with Windows Forms

So, I hope using the hack is clear to you, after all, it is not a hack it is the actual way in which Windows Forms applications are constructed, built and executed. Only difference is that on Windows we also get to use the UI designer. In case of Mono Project, we would have to craft the UI with our own codes and then re-implement it if there is a changing to be performed on the screen later. Thus, putting it simply, we are going to implement it the hard way since there is no, “Drag-and-drop” method here.

To get started, you need to understand that a Windows Forms application is a C# application too. So, only thing to understand is C# language itself and the .NET framework. We are going to use the same concepts of .NET framework and then implement the same concepts to Mono to get our graphical applications ready.

Create project — Any type

I had chosen to build this application on the top of Console application. You can select other types too. But, my recommendation is using the Console application.

Screenshot (3064)
Figure 3: Selecting the console project as the type.

Enter the names and details and create the project.

Screenshot (3065)Figure 4: Entering the details for the project.

At this moment, you will be at the same stage where you were in the beginning of this module, and the previous ones. You will have an empty project, that only renders, “Hello world”. That is the start, from here we will continue to build the larger and complex stuff.

Screenshot (3066)
Figure 5: Hello world!

This program is the default program that every time we were shown. Now, we need to add the graphics to the console. That’s simple. All we need to do is… Read the next section.😉

Adding graphics to the console

Adding the graphics to the console is pretty much simple, you just need to do the trick as:

  1. Include the System.Windows.Forms namespace to the project.
  2. Include the System.Drawing namespace to the project.
  3. Import the packages to your source code.
  4. Write the code yourself; since we do not have the designer.
  5. Run the program, and you will see the program start up.

But, I am going to show you how to do that in a minute or two. But first, let us understand why Windows Forms can be build using the code itself. The thing is, the Windows Forms applications are started on a thread, the thread gets the graphics objects and bitmaps which are rendered on the screen later. The objects are simply instances of the classes, for instance of Button class. These are all passed to the Application object, and they are executed, upon execution they render the graphics on the screen.

Another thing to understand and note is that Windows Forms uses System.Drawing to draw the native code in Mono. Mono targets the objects using the assemblies provided in System.Drawing namespace, and then renders the objects on the screen. At the moment, Mono supports on Win32 theme for the objects. In the end of this post, you will see how your objects are going to look. Remember, the objects are instances…:-)

Open the references and add the references to System.Windows.Forms and System.Drawing namespaces,

Screenshot (3067)
Figure 6: Initially references are like this.

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Figure 7: Adding the references to the namespaces. 

Now that we have everything set up, we can now continue to create a new Windows Form. This method is not similar to what we had in the previous IDEs, like Visual Studio. Instead, we are going to just mimic having a Windows Form.

Adding the Windows Form to your project

First thing to note is that there is no way of creating the form by itself in Mono Project. So, we are going to create a new object, and then we are going to turn it into the form and then render it using the main function. That’s just similar to what happens in Visual Studio too. You create the form, whose graphics are rendered separately in a designer, and the codefile is generated separately. Visual Studio maintains everything for you, which is why you do not feel anything different.

Step 1:

Create a new class, name it what you like, I chose MyForm and then write the following code to it.

using System;
using System.Windows.Forms;

namespace GraphicalApp
{
    public class MyForm : Form
    {
        // No properties.

        public MyForm ()
        {
            // Default constructor
        }

        // No functions.
    }
}

This is it. This is out, Windows Form now.

Step 2:

Before running the program, you also need to make sure that the main function now calls this form to be executed in the application too.

// In the references
using System.Windows.Forms;

// In the main function
Application.Run(new MyForm());

Now, run the project and you will (should!) see the following window with no controls, but with a graphical notation and rendering.

Screenshot (3069)
Figure 8: Sample empty Windows Form application.

This shows that our project is ready to accept the objects for graphical components. We can now write the code for the objects that we need to render. For example and for the sake of simplicity I would like to create a sample form that renders the form, which would ask me about my name and then would greet me once I click on the button.

All of these are core C# programming concepts and this has nothing to do with the Windows Forms or any other fundamental concept. Instead, these are very simple and yet easy features of C# programming language itself.

Step 3:

Anyways, to update, we can just update the MyForm class and write the code that we would need to have in order to render the form.

using System;
using System.Windows.Forms;
using System.Drawing;

namespace GraphicalApp
{
    public class MyForm : Form
    {
        // Properties.
        private Label label;
        private TextBox myName;
        private Button btn;

        public MyForm ()
        {
            // Call the function to render the objects.
            Text = "Windows Forms app";

            this.Size = new Size(300, 350);
            render();
        }

        private void render() {
            label = new Label { Text = "Your name: ", Location = new Point(10, 35) };
            myName = new TextBox { Location = new Point(10, 60), Width = 150 };
            btn = new Button { Text = "Submit", Location = new Point(10, 100) };
            btn.Click += Btn_Click; // Handle the event.

            // Attach these objects to the graphics window.
            this.Controls.Add(label);
            this.Controls.Add(myName);
            this.Controls.Add(btn);
        }

        // Handler
        void Btn_Click (object sender, EventArgs e)
        {
            MessageBox.Show ("Hello, " + myName.Text + "!");
        }
    }
}

Now again run the program, and you will see the following graphical application being rendered on the screen for you!

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Figure 9: This is the Windows Forms application on Ubuntu. 

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Figure 10: Entering the data and seeing that it works. 

Now, if you have been an old geek for Microsoft and Windows, then you would know that this style existed for decades in Windows environment. This style was typically adopted for Windows programming with C++, especially Win32 and then later C# was introduced and they had a different style; create a WPF app and look for yourself!

This is how Mono does the trick for Windows Forms. It does support Windows Forms and can use the same power of .NET framework to provide the similar ways to build the graphical applications for Linux environment. The benefit is that, you can now execute, build and run these graphical applications on Windows, Linux (every distro that supports Mono runtime) and Mac OS X. What more could you ask for?:-)

Points of Interest

In this post, i have walked you through different stages of building the graphical applications on Ubuntu using C# in Mono Project. The benefit of using graphical applications is that you can do more in less area, because “A picture worth a thousand words!”. Windows Forms is a framework that has been widely used by programmers of C# language and is still being used. If you can port your applications of Windows Forms to other platforms, it would be much better.

In this post, I have shown you how to do that. You can port your Windows Forms application, by porting the code for that application project, and then building it under Mono compilers.

The Mono runtime however, only supports Win32 theme for controls and however, provides a versatile amount of features, incredibly, they support all the new features of Windows Forms too. Which means, you can work around with:

  1. Graphics
  2. Multimedia
  3. Content management
  4. Data binding
  5. Event handling
  6. Asynchronous programming

And much more. There are more posts about Mono framework to come, but we are getting closer to having the guide completed and to be ready as a complete guide for “Programming C# on Linux”; or Ubuntu, what-ever you prefer.:-)

Installing and setting up R environment on Windows

Introduction and Background

One day in the previous week, I heard my professor say something about “R language” and I said to myself, “What is this R language?”. Of course I had no idea about what that language was but I was a bit curious to know about it and to learn about it. Luckily, I was provided with a few concepts about R language on C# Corner’s R language category and later I Googled stuff around to learn more about it. In this post, I am going to walk you through different things that I have learnt during my learning time.

In this post, I will walk you through many steps to set up the environment for R programming. I will be covering the basic R environment set up and later I will talk about using Visual Studio as the default IDE for R programming, after all, “Who doesn’t like Visual Studio?!”.

What is R, anyways?

A good introduction to the R language and R environment is given by Mahesh on C# Corner, I would recommend that you read that one, What Is R Language.

R is a programming language, as well as an environment for computation. What sort of computation? Statistical computation is the major field for R. However, many fields are using R language for their purposes, for example, Data Scientists are using R language for many analysis that they have to perform on data sets. Data mining etc. come later in the picture.

I will point out a few of the major fields that R can be used in, later, but first a bit of the intro to R language would be useful.

R-Programming-Language-Logo-785x595
Figure 1: R logo.

R language was developed in the early 1990s for statistical computation purposes. It started all with small modules, then it gathered and gained much reputation from online communities and it became a very popular environment to use in many fields of computer-related sciences. It was developed using C and FORTRAN as the basic language for interpretation.

R is distributed under GNU license and allows modifications to be made and shared online. R was developed in C and FORTRAN. That is why, you can modify the source code and recompile the binaries to make it suitable for your own needs. You can do that, too!

Why learn R?

As already mentioned that R is a programming language and environment for statistical programming and computation. That is why, R is a very prominent language to be used in data science projects. Specifically, the R language is used instead of C, Java or even C++ in these cases because the packages in R are already ready to be used and in no time, you get to use the best of the data science in this environment.

Untitled-1
Figure 2: A chart for benefits of learning R language. 

Even if you are not an open source developer, you would still find R language very much helpful. The usage of R ranges from field to field. As already depicted in the diagram above, this project can be used in many ways, in many fields and for many purposes. A few of the basics where, this can be used can be categorized as following:

  1. Working with data science projects.
  2. Building reports for data analysis.
  3. Creating presentations with graphical representations of results.
  4. Adding your own extensions to the projects.
  5. Educational use.

I will write some articles about using R in many ways, for many projects and tasks in computer science, but I would like to leave that all to a later time. Until now, just know that if you are going to analyze large amount of data sets, process data mining and similar projects. Then your best bid would be R language instead of C++ or Java.

Another beauty of R language is that it can be coupled with many other famous programming languages and environments and frameworks. For example, R functions can be called from C, C++, Java, Python and from the .NET environment, easily. You would be using the R language to:

  1. Process the data from CSV or TXT files.
  2. Generate summary reports in the form of graphics or tables.
  3. Use a special type of Markdown format to build the results.
  4. Use multiple formats to extract the data results.

There is much more to learn R for. Many giants such as Google and Facebook are already using R for their computation purposes, because it is open source and can be updated as per needs. It allows educational institutes to teach their students in a much simpler and easy way.

Setting up R environment

First step to perform would be to install the R environment packages on your machine. You can get the binaries for installation packages free of cost, from R website itself. Go to the CRAN network and select your own operating system and download the binaries to be used for installation purposes on your own machine.

I am using Windows operating system, so I used Windows instead. You can download the binaries for your own system. Start the setup and continue to follow the steps that are provided on the UI itself.

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Figure 3: R installation setup for Windows.

Later you would be asked to select the location where you want to install the packages. Chose a location, but recommendation is to leave it as it is.

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Figure 4: Location selection process.

Then the environment would be installed. You can run the environment programs by selecting either of the following icons.

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Select the one that suits your architecture, mine was 64 bit so I executed the one for my architecture.

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Figure 5: Running the R console.

Just to test that everything is running and set up fine, execute the following test on it.

> 3 + 3
[1] 6

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FIgure 6: Running a test in R console.

This shows the R is set up and we can continue to use it in our projects for our own purposes. Now, you don’t want to work on your projects using this console only. For that, you would require a full-featured Integrated development environment; IDE. In the next steps, I will walk you through many steps to install the IDE for R.

Setting up R using Visual Studio

Visual Studio is, no doubt, the best IDE available for everything. It already supports C, C++, C#, VB.NET, Python and many more languages and frameworks such as web development languages of HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

R language support has also just arrived with the “R Tools for Visual Studio” extension that you can install to get started with using R language in Visual Studio. But for this to run, you need to have Visual Studio 2015 with Update 1, any edition would work from Community to Enterprise.

To set up, you can go to the URL provided above. Download the tools, you can also install the Microsoft R Open manually. Microsoft R Open is what we are going to use from now on. Go to this website for Revolution Analytics, and start setting up MRAN (Microsoft’s distribution of CRAN)

  1. Download Microsoft R Open and install it.
  2. Download MKL Math Library, which is going to enhance the performance of MRAN.

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Figure 7: Microsoft R Open installer.

After that, install the MKL and you’re done!

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Figure 8: MKL installer.

After that, just run the Visual Studio IDE to get started with your first R program. That, I am going to cover in an upcoming post.

Points of Interest

In this post, I have talked about a few of the stages that you can undergo to set up your R environment. Before that, I talked about why and how to use R. Apart from that, I also shared a few of the things required to set up R environment on Windows and to use Visual Studio as the default IDE for programming with R language.

In the later posts, I will write about using R language for your computation that require a lot of data processing. See you in the next posts.:-)